I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by fine craft all my life. I ate off Shimoaka plates, Ed Drahanchuk, Jack Sures, Robin Hopper, John Chalke the entire gammit. I have also had the privilege to have taught at a school that encourages critical dialogue about ceramic art. If a student brought a pot made in a meat tray to a critique students would pay admission to see the horror on 6 faculties faces. My best students have collections of other potters work. They have libraries full to bulging with books on their profession. They can name who made what pot from 50 paces. They attend gallery openings, shows and attend workshops. They understand and respect the profession. They have not paid 3 years tuition to be told everything they make is "sooooooo pretty." I am more proud of my students accomplishments than my own. They do me proud!
Here is a note I received from Chandler. It is loooooooooong! It is continuing the critical dialoque that I believe is so missing in Art Centers, Guilds and coffee shops across our nation.
Tomorrow we unload Lord Baltimore. I got my fingers, toes and t's crossed.
Take it away, Chandler!
we have had some good old chats about this crazy profession ours lately. This new chapter regarding creating an invitational show and what that means to the clay community at large is a complex one and of real interest to me. I told you I would try to distill what it means to me having had experience with it.
So here is some more info and hopefully some clarity on this invitational thing...
11 years ago, after finally deciding that our local guild sale wasnt right for me and my work, for common, simple reasons like:
1.most of the participants were part time potters with other income/professions and really didnt need to earn money from selling their work so they were selling them way too cheaply making mine look too expensive. Their prices simply didnt reflect the reality of what it costs to run a studio and be a full time potter. My sales dropped and dropped over the years.
2. most of the other participants had very little training in the craft, were fairly new at it and as such their pots weren't sufficiently resolved or the kind of work I wanted to be associated with. There was nothing wrong with it. Lots of it was really nice and fun and useful. It just didnt work for me.
( I believe it is organizations like guilds/fusion/etc who do a disservice to most new potters by promoting the implicit understanding that if you have taken a few pottery lessons now you are a pro and you ought to get out there and start selling your work: like that is the next logical step. Then the quality of work at these sales ends up being not the greatest: and then the public starts to equate this quality of work with what hand made ceramics is all about. The last guild sale I went to I looked around the space and saw a sea of Rosies Red and Floating blue pots and I knew a huge percent of these pots had been fired by techs at community centres: Wouldn't it make sense that one criteria of being at a stage to sell work is that you make your own glazes and fire your own work?)
3. I really resented the standards committee thing where often people with little expertise were disqualifying perfectly fine pots for really dumb and WRONG reasons. ( I simply trusted ( and knew full well) that the artists in 260 Fingers would come to the show with incredible well made work and display it in a way that would do the show proud..and of course that is what happened.)
4. there was a certain amount of back stabbing, clique -y-ness, complaining and unfriendliness I witnessed over and over.
5. I really needed a place to show and sell my work!
SO I just marched right out and booked a really nice hall and then INVITED the number of artists I felt the space could hold, assuming they had professional quality exhibition displays AND such a number of artists could pay for what I figured the show might cost.
I reached out to the other ceramicists, (mostly friends or at least acquaintances) in a radius around Ottawa who I knew had the same issues as me with the guild sale paradigm or those who were only showing at more far flung shows or not at all due to a lack of a venue for them as full time professionals with a certain reputation for making “good”? “resolved” ? “critically acclaimed”?? clay art.
There was a nice symbiosis in that there were 26 artists initially invited and the hall held us all well, with a decent amount of room to show the work properly and our fees paid for the show.
We formed a non-profit corporation. I was willing to be nominally the “director” as we needed to have a board and an AGM etc which we have in the form of an amazing potluck lunch in an art filled home of of one of members.
The big point to stress here is that from the get-go we have the most fun, problem solve in a very positive, supportive way, help and encourage each other and have formed a very special bond. We are so happy for each others successes and adventures and really step up when one of us needs help in tough times...it is such a delight to know this group and ply our craft in such a respectful, thoughtful, cheerful manner.
On our website is an article called Umbutu referring to what makes our show special. It was written by 260 Fingers member Paula Murray and was published in Ceramics Technical recently. You can see that link at www.260fingers.ca .
Each year there is room for guest artists and we try to bring in new voices in clay from Quebec and south, central and western Ontario. We have had amazing guest artists which will be going up on our site soon.
Now I will address the overstated issue of backlash...I never felt hated for doing this although I heard there was some grumbling to begin with in some quarters. I kinda figured some noses would be out of joint but probably wouldn't stay that way for long. I really couldn't concern myself with that. And after all, MY nose was out of joint at the dumbing down of the craft and the elevation of mediocrity that was so pervasive and accepted.
However this is how I make my living. It was a huge necessity to create a place to show and sell my work that was appropriate for me and we do live in a region of over a million people: I figured there might be room for more than one pottery sale!! It didnt hurt to be in surrounded by artists whose work I admire.
On the opening night of our first show, there was a huge lineup! I was watching closely to see how folks were reacting. It was interesting. I think they were expecting the same kind of experience as going to a regular pottery sale. Well, the expression on the faces of these visitors was priceless. They were literally gobsmacked to be in that place surrounded with display after display of excellent ceramic art and pottery. First they were very quiet, then got their bearings and then the roar and excitment in the place was wild!
Funnily not a lot of our guild members of whom there are many, have come to see the show. Its interesting. I did see a few upside down smiles on a few familiar faces but that quickly changed. It was like they were inwardly saying> “so this is what you were talking about”.
However lots and lots of my students and other potters I know have told me again and again what a joy this show/sale is. They don't feel its elitist or arrogant. They see what its about.
Its not about exclusion. Its just different.
My primary objective was to provide a venue for artists who have worked hard to become noted in the craft. I hope that in creating 260 Fingers, the show has inspired a few clay artists to up their game...I want to create a bar for aspiring artists to rise to.
I feel this has been lacking in Fusion. I really hope a potential invitational show for recognized professionals will create new dialogue and new energy for this organization.
There are so few good places to see really terrific clay art, and let me tell you: seeing a whole bunch of it in one place is quite fantastic! Its a gift to the clay community.
I have heard through the grapevine that 260 Fingers is one of the most anticipated events on the Ottawa arts calendar. I am now seeing some of the more rarified curators, gallery owners etc who usually don't even recognize craft as worth their time coming to the show: often more than once in a weekend.
I am completely unapologetic about having helped get this show off the ground.
I would love to chat with anyone who is having trouble with this. I hope to be invited to any INVITATIONAL show run under the Fusion Banner. And if I'm not, I'll still be there looking for that perfect irresistible object I cant live with out. Yum yum.
Best wishes everyone.
Chandler Swain in Almonte, On